When I was 19

I turned 18 (my 19th year,etc) in January 1989.

My luck was turning with the ladies as well.

Well, with a lady.

I was hanging around outside the Boole (the library) one evening chatting to two or three of the only 8 girls in Civil Engineering. One of them, a bird completely out of my league, told me she’d some news for me the following week. When I say she was out of my league I mean she was good-looking, fit, intelligent and seemed to think I was funny (seemed to be laughing with me rather than at me).

She was way above the horizon of my gun sights.

Anyway, the next week she invites me to the Hockey Ball (think predatory women and men – boy in my case – in tuxedos).

I turn up at her house, orchid in one hand and a box of Biarritz chocolates in the other.

We head off to the ball, her dressed like a goddess and me all excited and dressed like a James Bond reject.

There is an old Irish joke:

How do you know an Irish Homosexual?

He prefers women to drink.

That night we both proved we were definitely not gay. I stopped counting at 20 vodkas – each.

The next morning I though I was a fully paid up member of the ‘going out with a girl’ club.

I wasn’t in that club. I was in the ‘ignored by girls’ club.

I wasn’t sure what I had done, the drunken grope? the 20 vodkas? the box of biarritz? All textbook first date stuff.

I went back to my lonely life of onanism, exams and planning my summer holidays.

The first year civil engineering exams were not a touch on the leaving cert so I had no problems with them.

My plan for the summer was to head over to London to discover if the streets were in fact paved with gold. Even though this was only 20 odd years ago you’ve got to remember that it was a time before Michael and his flying buses and the interweb.

To get to London you had to spend 12 hours on a bus and get chucked out in Victoria Station at 6:00 in the morning.  6 of us travelled over, no accommodation, no jobs, no money.


By the end of the first day some Algerian estate agent in Earl’s Court had 6 of us sleeping on mattresses in a basement flat on Warwick road for £25 a week each. As we had never rented a flat before we didn’t realise that this was a bit substandard. The flushing of the toilet bubbling up into the bath was the give away.

We all hoped to get jobs labouring on the sites. some of us had more success than others. I had a few false starts – washing dishes in the Albert Hall, making sandwiches in the Daily Mirror canteen – before landing a sweet deal labouring in a small company who were up-grading a school. Nice and easy.

London is a great city. But when you have no money, are love-sick and sleep in a one bed bed sit with 5 others (one was the golden pencil) the gloss goes off it.

The summer became a monotony of easi-singles sandwiches and pints of milk for lunch, findus crispi-bread pancakes for tea and carlsberg export and a marathon bar for supper. To phone you had to use a payphone. We had perfected a trick of coating a 10 pence piece in silver foil so it weighed the same as a 50 pence so you could get 30 minutes of talk time for 60 pence.

This was the summer of 1989 – anybody remember? The summer of the Marchioness and the Bowbelle.

There were only two upsides to this grim existence. One was that we did loads and loads of walking and saw lots of London (we didn’t realise that Earls Court and the Brompton Cemetery were the gay cruising capital of London). The other was that I started writing letters (remember them?) to the Hockey Ball girl. She was back in Ireland and started writing back. this made the summer go much much faster and meant that once I got half way through September I was back on the Slattery’s bus to Cork.

In those days you would be regularly stopped at Pembroke or Heathrow and checked over by the special branch because of the activities of the provos. Coming from Cork, the provos were about as far away from me as the Red Brigade or ETA – still, it was a bit exciting. It got too exciting for the Golden Pencil. He got picked up in Victoria Station and was banged up in a cell and ‘searched’.

The rest of the year was spent rebuilding my relationship with the hockey ball girl so that I ended the year with not quite a girlfriend but taking the opposite approach to the 20 vodkas and a grope.

She goes on to play a prominent role in the next year as well.

Music wise I thought the gutiar riffs from Slash were spectacular.


4 responses to “When I was 19

  1. London Based Pirate

    I remeber them days well. I was in canada and my wife (first) in Germany. No phone calls, just letters. I was away for three months and we believed that written contact of over a week to be sufficient. Because it was then. We’re divorced now.

  2. Didn’t know you were in London the summer of ’89 too. How come you never ventured south of the river to Battersea?

    The Slattery bus brings back memories, I must tell you a story about the trip over myself and Ben made when we were heading over. Arriving in Victoria with a banging hangover and trying to find your way around was not the best introduction to London one could get.

    Great series by the way though.

  3. Your trick with the tinfoil reminds me of 1990 in Berlin where a 5p was the same size as a 1DM coin so we could phone home for sweet all.

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